By Martyn Herman
PALMA, Mallorca (Reuters) – Coming from a small island himself it is perhaps not surprising that former England defender Graeme Le Saux feels a special affinity with La Liga outfit Real Mallorca.
For the past two years the 50-year-old has been a key figure on the Board at the Balearic Island club during its rise back to the top flight after a tumultuous six-season absence.
Jersey-born Le Saux is too modest to accept plaudits for his role in the American-owned club’s revival, but when the Reds began the season with a 2-1 win over Eibar at their Son Moix stadium the former Premier League winner could not stop beaming.
He knew exactly what it meant to a fiercely-proud club that little over two years ago was relegated to the Segunda Division B — the third-tier of Spanish football known as ‘the well’.
“From my point of view this isn’t the feel of a league team, it feels more like a national team, representing the island,” Le Saux, who has owned a property in Mallorca for more than a decade, told Reuters in an interview.
“When the team were demoted to the third division it was the lowest point for the club but for me it was the first day of a new opportunity to build something special.”
Le Saux, who won the league title with Blackburn Rovers in 1995 and earned 36 England caps, has carved out a role for himself as an analyst for NBC’s Premier League coverage.
Fellow NBC analyst and former American player Kyle Martino had already become involved with Mallorca and suggested Le Saux chat with majority shareholders Robert Sarver and Andy Kohlberg who took over the ailing club in 2016.
“They felt that I could offer something and I’m delighted to be part of it,” Le Saux said.
Thanks to the $21 million investment of Phoenix Suns NBA franchise owner Sarver and former professional tennis player Kohlberg, together with Canadian former NBA All-Star Steve Nash, Mallorca pulled back from the financial precipice.
Le Saux, a non-executive senior sporting advisor, says a new culture has been established on and off the pitch.
Coach Vicente Moreno has achieved successive promotions and kept faith with most of the players who got them back up.
The club spent only 7 million euros ($7.80 million) in the close season, with loans and free transfers boosting the squad.
After the euphoria of a playoff win over Deportivo La Coruna and the opening day victory against Eibar, Real Sociedad offered a dose of reality with a 1-0 win at the Son Moix last week.
Mallorca make the short trip to Valencia on Sunday when Moreno will find out even more about his players.
Le Saux knows the rapid rise can present challenges.
“When I came the club didn’t have the right mentality, there were lots of distractions,” he said.
“But the players have done a great job in following the identity and the values that we have set and have performed to an incredible level. But I keep saying to the owners this (consecutive promotions) is not normal.
“You have to underpin the values that got you to where you are. At the same time you have to adapt to the new environment which is the quality of the players in La Liga.”
While Le Saux’s role is an advisory one he believes his experiences with Blackburn, Chelsea and England can benefit Mallorca in their quest to re-establish themselves as a force.
“I suppose I look back on my career and feel fortunate I played at a level where… you knew you had to be technically very, very good but mentally and physically you had to be exceptional. That’s something I get across to the owners.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris)